Americans like to spend money on crap. We also like to think that the more money we waste on said crap, the better it will make us feel when other people see it. Amusement parks -- like Elitch Gardens and Lakeside -- definitely fall into this illusion of worth. It is true that, once upon a time, Elitch Gardens was an actual amusement park. For almost one hundred years before Six Flags pulled a Walmart and moved in, took over, removed the park's charm and trees and replaced them with depression and cement and higher ticket prices, Elitch's was actually a place where fun happened. But Lakeside has never strayed from its working-class roots.
Like your science partner in high school who wore JNCOs and worked at the pretzel place in the mall (where he is now the manager), the park has existed, unedited by modernism, for decades. It has a dirt parking lot that butts up to an abandoned raceway where guests often pre-game in their cars before heading in for rides. It is home to creaky, imperfect, paint-peeling rides that are sometimes out-of-order. The ticket-takers are friendly folks from a wide variety of age brackets and demographics. Lakeside puts on no airs: It is a true, no-bullshit amusement park.
I grew up going to Lakeside -- between the amusement park and Casa Bonita, the only other place I ever celebrated my birthday was at home. As the poor kid at my Catholic school, I learned that upon returning from summer vacation, it was not cool to admit you had been to Lakeside several times over the hot season. Children can be shitty people (especially to each other), and essentially, if you frequented Lakeside, it meant you had no money and your parents obviously didn't care if you lived or died.
It was true that we were not even remotely rich (though I prefer to refer to my family as intellectual white trash), but it wasn't that my parents didn't care about safety. The truth was (and still is), Lakeside is as safe as any other amusement park, even the glistening fallacy of harmlessness that is Elitch Gardens. My parents just understood what the park was about -- cheap fun for you and your kids. Gate admission is well under five bucks, so you can effectively skip the rides and just enjoy the funnel cake if you're not into spinning around on The Spider until you puke.
Speaking of The Spider, if you're looking for fancy rides, Lakeside doesn't have them. The park does have the Wild Chipmunk, a squeaky, single-car mini-coaster that will give your neck a good whipping around while you sit awkwardly between someone else's legs in a tobbagan named Alvin. There's also the Skoota Boats, if you're into navigating circular inflatable things through harsh-looking dyed-toilet blue water, plus a rotating assortment of creepy carnival-style cast-off rides and funhouses that come and go without notice.
The park is home to a merry-go-round painted with vaguely inappropriate images of large-breasted women and has an organ at the center of it emblazoned with the number 69. If you're less of a perv and more of a traditionalist, Lakeside's wooden pride and joy, The Cyclone roller coaster, sits in the middle of it all and, like most rides, hardly ever has a line. There are no upside-down rides or water features (unless you count the swampy little lake and the train that circles it) and some rides sit dark and dead in the midst of the other neon-lit ones.
I could go on, but you should just experience Lakeside for yourself (like tonight, when the Denver Film Society takes over the park for its inaugural Summer Scream party). Try to drop any preconceived notions about the park being sketchy -- which is part of its charm, actually -- and pretend you're a kid again. And by that I mean, pretend you don't care how much money it doesn't cost to get into an amusement park.
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